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Patterns in body size and melanism along a latitudinal cline in the wingless grasshopper, Phaulacridium vittatum

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Aim  We explore geographic variation in body size within the wingless grasshopper, Phaulacridium vittatum, along a latitudinal gradient, and ask whether melanism can help explain the existence of clinal variation. We test the hypotheses that both male and female grasshoppers will be larger and lighter in colour at lower latitudes, and that reflectance and size will be positively correlated, as predicted by biophysical theory. We then test the hypothesis that variability in size and reflectance is thermally driven, by assessing correlations with temperature and other climatic variables.

Location  Sixty‐one populations were sampled along the east coast of Australia between latitudes 27.63° S and 43.10° S, at elevations ranging from 10 to 2000 m a.s.l.

Methods  Average reflectance was used as a measure of melanism and femur length as an index of body size for 198 adult grasshoppers. Climate variables were generated by BIOCLIM for each collection locality. Hierarchical partitioning was used to identify those variables with the most independent influence on grasshopper size and reflectance.

Results  Overall, there was no simple relationship between size and latitude in P. vittatum. Female body size decreased significantly with latitude, while male body size was largest at intermediate latitudes. Rainfall was the most important climatic variable associated with body size of both males and females. Female body size was also associated with radiation seasonality and male body size with reflectance. The reflectance of females was not correlated with latitude or body size, while male reflectance was significantly higher at intermediate latitudes and positively correlated with body size. Analyses of climate variables showed no significant association with male reflectance, while female reflectance was significantly related to the mean temperature of the driest quarter.

Main conclusions  Geographic variation in the body size of the wingless grasshopper is best explained in terms of rainfall and radiation seasonality, rather than temperature. However, melanism is also a significant influence on body size in male grasshoppers, suggesting that thermal fitness does play a role in determining adaptive responses to local conditions in this sex.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 78, Hobart 7001, Australia 2: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, 2109, Australia

Publication date: 2012-08-01

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